A matter of time
New limits in effect on truck driver hours of service
- The new HOS regulations require certain drivers to take 30-minute breaks during their workday, and limit drivers’ ability to “reset” their weekly driving hours to only once every seven days and as long as they take 34 continuous hours off-duty, including at least two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
- Some industry representatives claim that the new regulations overly restrict how drivers allocate their on-duty driving hours, forcing them on the roads during periods of congestion and decreasing roadway safety.
- Other organizations claim the regulations do not go far enough to ensure drivers receive sufficient time for sleep and rest during the day and weekly.
The traditional U.S. workweek is 40 hours. But some truck drivers work nearly twice that amount each week – with a 34-hour “weekend” – behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle.
The length and timing of a truck driver’s workweek is at the heart of the debate over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s latest changes to its hours-of-service regulations for property-carrying commercial motor vehicle operators.
The regulations were established in a December 2011 final rule and went into full effect on July 1. They require certain drivers to take 30-minute breaks during their workday and limit drivers’ ability to “reset” their weekly driving hours to only once every seven days and as long as they take 34 continuous hours off-duty, including at least two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
“Safety is our highest priority,” then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a July 1 press release. “These rules make commonsense, data-driven changes to reduce truck driver fatigue and improve safety for every traveler on our highways and roads.”
However, some industry stakeholders, labor unions and transportation safety advocates disagree on whether the new regulations will help protect drivers’ safety and health and how they will affect the trucking industry.
A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the changes took place June 18, with industry, enforcement and roadway safety representatives in attendance. In prepared testimony, FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said the new regulations were developed after years of peer-reviewed research into fatigue and driver safety. Some participants questioned Ferro’s claims and argued that the changes would negatively impact safety by overly restricting how drivers allocate their work hours.
Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Little Rock, AR-based Maverick USA Inc., represented the Arlington, VA-based American Trucking Associations at the meeting. Williams questioned the validity of FMCSA’s claims about the regulations’ safety benefits and how many truck drivers would be affected. He referenced a survey in which about three-fourths of the truck driver respondents said the nighttime sleep provision of the 34-hour restart rule alone would have a “moderate” or “major” impact on their operations. In comparison, FMCSA said only 15 percent of drivers would be significantly impacted.
According to the survey, which was conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (the research arm of the American Trucking Associations), participants reported that the new regulations would force them onto the roads during congested hours. This would endanger them and other drivers, and certain aspects of the regulations would limit their ability to save work hours for unexpected schedule changes or emergencies.
While noting that fatigue among truck drivers must be addressed, Williams claimed in his testimony that limiting drivers’ work hours is not the most effective option and cannot fully prevent unsafe behaviors. “People become fatigued for a variety of reasons, the most critical one being how they choose to use their time off-duty,” he said. “Those who do not use that time responsibly to get rest will continue to be fatigued.”
Other organizations, however, believe the new rules do not go far enough. The Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety claims the new regulations will not prevent carriers from putting overworked, fatigued drivers behind the wheel.
The 2011 final rule maintains the daily driving limit of 11 hours that began in 2003 when FMCSA raised the 10-hour limit first set in the 1930s. After the eighth hour of driving, an operator’s fatigue reaches a level that begins to significantly impact his or her driving, said Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for Advocates. Drivers are more likely to become fatigued and crash as the day goes on, so it is dangerous to allow an 11th hour of driving, Jasny said.
Advocates also takes issue with aspects of the 2011 final rule’s allowance for a 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to “reset” their weekly driving limit to work additional hours each week. Advocates’ concern is that 34 hours is not long enough to recuperate each week, Jasny said. The 2011 final rule also limits the restart to once every seven days, but does not take into account drivers operating on eight-day schedules, he said.
“The hours of working and driving, week after week, month after month, are dangerous and deadly compared to the typical 40-hour workweek of most Americans,” Joan Claybrook, consumer co-chair for Advocates and former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said during the June 18 hearing. “If a truck driver nods off for even a second of those 11 hours, it could result in a deadly crash. The stakes here are very high.”
An Aug. 2 decision – largely siding with FMCSA – by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld all but one provision in the final rule, a requirement that had applied the 30-minute rest break requirement to short-haul drivers. At press time, organizations such as livestock and hazardous materials carriers were seeking further exemptions from the rest-break requirement for long-haul drivers, but for now, the court’s decision has put to rest when and for how long truck drivers take breaks.